Our first opera for the evening is actually an operetta, Die Fledermaus, by the legendary Austrian “Waltz King” Johann Strauss II. The opera was based on a farce by the German playwright Julius Roderich Benedix, and Strauss also used a French vaudeville play, Le réveillon, by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, as source material. The operetta was premiered on 5 April 1874 in Vienna, and has been regularly performed ever since. Not only is it a fine operatic work that serves as an excellent showcase for the lead soprano (I’ve seen some lovely video of the excellent soprano Nathalie Dessay performing the lead role with great panache), but it is also a rare, maybe even unexpected, combination of waltz and opera. If you love waltz, then Die Fledermaus is a treat for the ears.
Tonight’s recording is from 1971, and features Nicolai Gedda, Anneliese Rothenberger, Renate Holm, Adolf Dallapozza, and Brigitte Fassbaender. The great Willi Boskovsky directed the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and State Opera Chorus.
Our second opera of the evening is an opera by Hector Berlioz. Benvenuto Cellini is an opera in two acts that is loosely based on the memoirs of the Florentine Renaissance era sculptor Benvenuto Cellini. Berlioz first devised the opera with his librettist Henri Auguste Barbier in the opéra comique style, with spoken dialog, but it was rejected by the opera company that he intended to submit it to. So he reworked it into a more conventional opera format, omitting the spoken dialogue.
The opera was first performed at the Paris Opera on September 10, 1838, conducted by François Antoine Habeneck, and with Gilbert Duprez (the first tenor to be able to sing the high C naturally, without going into falsetto) in the title-role. The opera was so radical in its construction that the audience rioted, and the musicians branded it impossible to play. It was only performed two more times in Berlioz’s lifetime, with one of the performances being conducted by Franz Lizst (who also suggested changes). It is not frequently performed, although there are occasional revivals, and several recordings.
Tonight’s recording is from 2004, and features Gregory Kunde, Patrizia Ciofi, Joyce DiDonato, Laurent Naouri, Jean-François Lapointe, Renaud Delaigue, Eric Salha, Marc Mauillon, Roman Nédélec , Eric Huchet; the Orchestre National de France was conducted by John Nelson.